November 9, 2016

Baseball Pitch Count: How Many Pitches Is Too Many For Young Arms?


HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Youth baseball is in full swing. With every pitch, though, comes the potential for a problem — arm injuries are on the rise for kids on the mound.

“Injuries that will sometimes shut down their career in baseball,” says Dr. Bill Shaw, a pediatric sports medicine expert at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.

The issue is overuse. America’s past time has become almost a full-time sport.

Kids like Zane Gurkin play and practice nearly all year long. This spring, the sixth grader is on the roster of three teams, little league, middle school and travel ball.

“If you’re pitching for those teams all three of them, you guys have 4-5 games a week combined, you can’t pitch in all of them. It’s just unrealistic,” explains Patrick Scoggin. He’s a coach at RBA West, a baseball academy in Henrico County.

Kids who throw too many pitches can throw themselves right out of the sport.

“Loss of accuracy may be the very first thing you see,” explains Dr. Shaw. “Then certainly you’ll start to see evidence of a slowing in arm speed or pitching speed and then you’ll see the pain kick in and that’s a problem at that point.”

Dr. Shaw adds most overuse injuries force pitchers to temporarily shut down their arms. That means no throwing for four to six weeks.

The issue is overuse. America’s past time has become almost a full-time sport.

But sometimes the damage is more devastating.

You’ve probably heard of Tommy John surgery. Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg was out for more than a year after undergoing the painful procedure.

So to protect young arms, parents need to be proactive.

“The biggest thing is communication between you and your kid. You know they’re the ones who really know how their arms feeling and how their body’s feeling,” says Scoggin.

He urges parents to teach their kids to come forward if they’re experiencing arm pain, but that’s not always easy for young players who don’t want to disappoint their coach and their team.

Scoggin adds coaches should shoulder some responsibility too. At RBA West, all of the coaches keep track of pitch count.

Major League Baseball counts pitches. Youth leagues should too, according to the American Sports Medicine Institute. ASMI is a not for profit sports research and education foundation that offers pitch count guidelines.

It recommends no more than 75 pitches per game for players 11 to 14 years old. The number goes up for older pitchers.

If your child’s coach doesn’t count pitches, Scoggin says mom or dad should.

“I always kind of say this saying to my parents, would you rather remember a game that he pitched when he was 12 or that he pitched when he was 20? You know those extra 15-20 pitches the last inning could have a lost lasting effect you might not know about,” adds Scoggin.

Baseball experts feel strongly about the off season too. They recommend pitchers take at least 2-3 months off every year to give their arms a break.

A little prevention could help ensure a long, healthy youth pitching career.